Peoples and St. John

Butte Central seniors Emily St. John, left, and Mollie Peoples first met on the basketball court when they were in eighth grade. Now the guards are two of Butte's leading playmakers.

Alexandria Valdez, The Montana Standard

Mollie Peoples and Emily St. John are known as the leading scorers for the Butte Central girls' basketball team. When opponents try to shut down one senior, the other is still able to find her way to the basket.

But things haven't always gone smoothly for the two players. When they first met, they were adversaries on the court.

"We were in eighth grade and we played against each other in a tournament," Peoples recalled. "We met each other after the tournament. … I remember our coach was just like, 'Don't let St. John shoot the 3-pointer. She will shoot the 3.'"

Peoples and St. John have since become integral members of the Butte Central Maroons girls' basketball program.

In the middle of January, Peoples cracked the 1,000 point mark in career points scored. Currently, she is third on the Maroons' career points list with 1, 098 points, going into Tuesday night's game against against Belgrade at the Maroon Activities Center. Her older sister, Quinn, is second in the record books with 1, 224 points.

St. John has leaped from seventh to fourth in career points scored, taking a total of 955 points into the Belgrade game.

But neither player touts nor gives much thought to their standing in Butte Central scoring history, and that is one reason coach Meg Murphy said they are great players.

"They're the most laid back kids that you could know," Murphy said. "They probably couldn't tell you tell you how many points, how many assists, how many rebounds they got per game. They never ask at the end of the game, 'How many points did I have? How many rebounds did I have?'

"It's more, 'Did we play well? Am I disappointed because we didn't play well enough?' For a coach, that's a great thing."

Both players have deep roots in basketball. Peoples is a Butte native and recalls spending days in the gym with her father when he was at the helm of the Maroons basketball program. St. John, who grew up in Opheim, was shooting hoops with her father in kindergarten.

Once the girls began high school, they jumped into leadership roles. During their sophomore season, the Maroons went all the way the Class A state championship game. Butte Central lost to Hamilton in the title game, 58-46.

But everything fell into place during their junior season. Last year, the Maroons had a perfect 24-0 season. No. 24 came during the state championship game in which Butte Central defeated Columbia Falls 54-48.

St. John said that after finishing second their sophomore year, there was extra motivation for their junior tour.

"It really felt surreal," she said about winning the state championship. "It actually took a couple days to set in that we had won. It's something that you've worked for since you can remember."

But their senior season has hit a few road bumps.

Columbia Falls handed Butte Central its first loss in over a year at the beginning of December. Returning players, like Kloie Thatcher, was hurt in that game and missed a few weeks. Other projected starters were out with injuries before the season began.

But despite the losses, Peoples and St. John have pushed forward. Murphy said that her two seniors' success is due to their competitiveness.

"They've been in the gym their entire life," Murphy said. "You'll see Mollie here on a Sunday just shooting 100 to 200 shots. Same thing with Emily. They put in time in the offseason, that's just so insurmountable. That's what makes them that good and that's what's gives them that edge over people."

During their years spent together at games, on buses and in school, the girls have learned the ins-and-outs of each other's personalities. St. John said Peoples is "the mom" of the team and makes sure the underclassmen feel welcome. Both players also have an affinity for food – Peoples pledges her pizza allegiance to SilverBow Pizza and St. John enjoys smashing up Oreos and eating them for breakfast.

When the players graduate, they will head off in different directions. St. John said as of now, she plans on attending college and hasn't decided if she'll pursue basketball. Peoples committed last fall to playing for the Montana Tech Orediggers.

Peoples said she's looking forward to the next step in her basketball career.

"I'm excited just because I know a lot of the girls are really nice," Peoples said. "And I really like coach (Carly) Sanon. It's just a good school, so I'm excited."

The dynamic duo will play their final regular season game for the Maroons at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Belgrade. But when they hang finally get around to hanging up their jerseys for on last time, Murphy said they'll be leaving behind a vibrant legacy.

"I think they've established the ground foot for other kids walking into that role of, 'If you want to be good and you want to be successful you have to put time in the gym,'" Murphy said. "That's what they do. They lead by what they do and that's being gym rats. I think their legacy is that they're good. They're good kids and they have a tremendous work ethic. That's all you can ask for."

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